“In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”–Hypatia
Hypatia’s life fascinates me. She was perhaps the most famous female polymath of the ancient Eastern Roman Empire. Hypatia was an astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. She was a leading figure of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria, Egypt. Although she was a pagan, Hypatia was loved by the Christians and non-Christians alike. She was highly influential among the political elite as well.
Hypatia was one of the advisors of the Roman prefect of Alexandria, Orestes. At the time, Orestes had been engaged in a nasty political feud with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. People had gossiped and spread rumors that Hypatia had advised Orestes to continue the feud with the church leader.
One morning in March 415 CE she was captured by a Christian mob and tortured. She was dragged into a church, stripped naked, and brutally murdered. Immediately afterwards, the mob disfigured and desecrated her remains. The Roman Empire was shocked by Hypatia’s murder. She became a martyr for intellectuals and philosophers. In more recent times, Hypatia has been seen by some as an icon of the women’s rights movement. Today she is legendary among secularists of all genders.
Hypatia’s complex life and fascinating biographies remind us that her tragic death came about because of conflicting points of view between the intellectuals and the religionists of her day. Many of these differences have been passed down to modern society. These differences highlight how our individual and social group view life. Each of us perceives existence from a different point of view.
There is the popular example of police interviewing witnesses of a car accident. Each witness has her or his own version of the incident. Each person was in a different place at the scene. Perhaps one witness was a pedestrian, she will place importance on some aspect of the wreck. Another person might have been driving a truck two car-lengths away from the crash when he noticed the accident. Likewise, one of the drivers who was involved in the accident will describe a set of circumstances while the driver of the other car will remember the incident differently.
These various descriptions of the same incident happen because of the witnesses physical placement during the accident. Also witnesses to the event were not prepared to take an inventory of vehicle movement and driver behavior for future reference. Each individual placed importance on different parts of the event. One witness might have thought vehicle speed was the most important factor, while another may have believed hazardous road conditions were the most important aspect. These opinions affected how they understood why the car wreck occurred. They each had their own perspectives of the accident scene.
We go about our daily lives and understand the world and events through our personal filters. My friend may feel mystical and interpret his surroundings and events in a poetic manner. Meanwhile, I might observe the world with an analytical eye and understand the same phenomenon in a skeptical manner. At the same time the friend and I realize we understand life with differing points of view. We understand how our conceptual opinions are formed. We both know that our views and beliefs are not precisely nor even literally what actually takes place, but that they are representative according to how we have learned to understand phenomena.
A striking way to understand point of view and paradigms is to travel abroad. When you visit a nation comprised of people who believe in a religion that differs from the predominate religion of your home country, your default belief can undergo a paradigm shift. If you visit with the locals and are observant, you will more deeply understand why “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes” is important. One realizes that there is no one absolute point of view from which ideal and real can be labeled and ultimately separated. Our way of visualizing life is based upon beliefs and opinions more than objective, factual data.
Comparing other people’s points of view with one’s own point of view makes for thoughtful moments of contemplation. Such comparisons help us to enhance our levels of empathy and compassion. Anyway, that’s according to my point of view.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes George Harrison . “To tell the truth, I’d join a band with John Lennon any day, but I couldn’t join a band with Paul McCartney, but it’s nothing personal. It’s just from a musical point of view.”